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Peculiar Tenacity of Caste

Andre Beteille

Indian anthropologists gradually turned their attention from tribal to village

studies where the presence of case still exists and also from varna to jati and to
active dynamism between caste and politics.
The economists who dominated the social science profession till 1970 believed
that cast belonged to Indias past and not Indias future.
They believed that caste was an obstacle to economic development and it is an
obstacle that can be removed through the formulation and application of
Intelligent policy.
The three major areas in social life in which the evidence suggested that caste
was declining and not advancing is
a. the observance of rules relating to purity and pollution were becoming weaker
b. The regulation of marriage according to rules of caste was becoming less
c. The relation between caste and occupation was becoming more flexible
The authors views were influenced by N K Bose and M N Srinivas. M N Srinivas
believed that the caste system in India will continue to have its hold while N K
Bose is carried away by his hope that India would become a casteless society.
Reasons why evidence about caste is so diverse and difficult to interpret
a. Large size of the country and diversity in population
b. Apart from regional differences there are urban and rural differences
c. Differences are also based on wealth, occupation and education.
Sanskritisation: M N Srinivas pointed out sanskritisation saying that it enlarged
the scope of ritual in ceremonial life even while the force of purity and pollution
was being reduced in everyday life
Rules of Commensality:
The pre-Independence period has witnessed differences in rules of purity and
pollution and maintaining social differences between castes and the most
conspicuous among these rules was commensality. In Bengal, there was
distinction between castes from which you can accept water and from which you
cannot and the same is applicable with tanjore district of Tamilnadu.
Later the link between caste and ritual has weekend precisely in matters
regarding commensality as when food is served on festive occasions, members of
different caste are no longer served food according to rules of caste.
Distinctions of status are observed in each society and old rules of exclusion are
often replaced by more subtle and flexible codes. The old ritual criteria has not
disappeared but they have to compete with increasingly new secular criteria like
education and occupation.
The winds of change have not left even rural India untouched as they have shown
relaxation of restrictions in inter-dining.
Rule of Endogamy:
The rule of marriage that is directly linked with the perpetuation of caste is called
endogamy. It is that rule which confines the ties of kinship and marriage within a
small and defined group and thereby maintains social boundaries with other
The rule of endogamy tells is about the separation between castes whereas rule
of hypergamy tells us about both separation and hierarchy. It expresses that
bride-takers are superior to bride-givers.
Among the upper castes in particular, girls were married very young ideally before
they attained puberty. This is changing though not rapidly or to the same extent
in all sections of society.

Rise in age at marriage:

The secular trend of raise in the age of marriage for women is one of the most
significant features of contemporary Indian society. For good or ill middle calls has
played a crucial part in the making of modern India and its open and secular
Individual Mobility:
Economic development doesnt create the same opportunities everywhere and it
leads not only to upward but also downward mobility.
After independence, the political conflicts among castes became more widespread
and more intense. New sub-groups between castes, sub-castes and groups of
castes began to rise.
Watershed of 1975-77 Emergency:
Things began to change after the emergency. The mandal commission report of
1980 turned the tide in favour of caste politics. Increasingly, social justice came to
be seen as a matter of caste rather than class.
However, the main responsibility of giving a sensational turn to caste lies with the
electronic media. It has now become a part of conventional wisdom that caste is
here to stay just as it was part of conventional wisdom among the makers of
modern India that caste was bound to disappear.

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